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Ones to Watch: Four Local Trailblazers to Put on Your Radar

These entrepreneurs are making a name for themselves in Austin and beyond

Elly Abels

Meet the young designer that teachers call “a ray of fashionable sunshine”

By Amanda Eyre Ward

Eliana Abels (who goes by “Elly”) defines her fashion sense with three words: bright, retro and colorful. Her work is inspired by Betsy Johnson.

“I love her use of color,” says Elly. “It’s always so unique.”

“I immediately noticed Elly’s voice in her work,” says Elly’s professor at the Art Institute of Austin, Karen Bravo. “As you can tell from her style, she has a very fun, positive, upbeat, bright personality, which she translates into her fashion.”

Elly grew up in the Greater Austin area. “Living in such a creative and free environment allowed me to have so many opportunities to learn and grow in my artistic passions,” says Elly. She taught herself to quilt with the help of YouTube and her grandmother, whom she calls Nana.

“I would experiment with different sewing techniques through my quilts. And then I was like, I wonder if I can do that in a skirt … or I wonder if I can do that in a dress,” Elly explains. Now, she says, “I donate my quilts to local pregnancy centers and use my fashion skills to create chic outfits for my friends.”

Elly’s personal style is inspired by vintage fashion from the 60s and 70s, as well as Japanese streetwear.

“I love to wear bright colors, vivid prints and layered textures. In my own designs, I incorporate various colors and prints to create garments that are bright, happy and fun,” she notes.

She’s also an advocate for slow fashion, which prioritizes sustainability and ethically made clothes.

“Many clothes are made in such a rapid way that it damages the environment and the people that make those clothes.” Instead, Elly’s designs are “small batch.” She explains, “I want to be sure that everyone, everything involved in one of my garments is, you know, okay, in terms of taking care of the planet, taking care of the people. And in order to do that, I make small batches of clothes, kind of like a limited edition, one of a kind.”

When we speak, Elly is wearing one of her own designs, a shirt with tiny rainbows and a square neckline paired with an embroidered denim vest. She’s working on her winter collection, which she dreams of showing at Austin Fashion Week. She shows me the designs for a rainbow-colored, faux fur coat.

“The big buzzword for my winter collection is rainbow fur,” she says. “A lot of texture.” She also adores a splash of color, despite the current trend of using a natural palette. Elly likes to “throw in a little bit of pink, a little bit of blue, you know, lighten that up and bring a little flash.”

And each Elly Designs creation includes a tiny tag that says, “Handmade with Love.” She wants people to be happy when they’re wearing her creations.

“I want to make things out of love … out of joy.”

Mike Wiebe

This multi-hyphenate performer continues to make his mark on Austin

By Darcie Duttweiler

When Mike Wiebe met Bruce Springsteen in 2007 while touring with punk band Against Me!, The Boss told him that between the two of them and James Brown, they were the hardest working front men in show business.

For anyone who has seen The Riverboat Gamblers or Drakulas, both bands Wiebe fronts, you’ll definitely know what New Jersey’s favorite son is talking about. Wiebe is a ball of adrenaline bouncing around the stage, performing all the way for the “cheap seats” in the back.

But, for Wiebe, a self-deprecating jack-of-all-trades, he calls it a “Make-A-Wish moment” and refuses to admit that Springsteen would actually mean it. The musician-slash-stand-up-comic-slash-actor, of course, has a more hilarious anecdote to share, in which he drunkenly got Springsteen to say “pickle” instead of “cheese” while taking a photo, something Wiebe’s mom would get him to say as a child.

“I guess you could say we’re good friends — we’re pickle buds,” Wiebe laughs.

It’s an understatement to say Wiebe is a hard-working front man. He literally bleeds for his art, having broken his ribs and collapsed his lungs during a stage dive gone awry during a Riverboat Gamblers concert at a South by Southwest showcase in 2016. While he’s no longer flinging himself about on stage with reckless abandon — he is now 46 years old after all — the consummate showman is prancing around as Savage Lord Mic, the arrogant, often salacious front man of the Drakulas, which he describes as a “Warriors-esque concept band.” He dons spiked sunglasses and sings tunes about a seedy 1970s New York in an act that even he admits some people don’t quite get.

“To be mediocre is way worse. Extreme like is the best, but a visceral dislike has something behind it. It shook them,” Wiebe explains.

Riverboat Gamblers formed in the late 1990s and released the band’s first album in 2001, which means the band is now, as Wiebe puts it “legally able to rent a car.” The band members have all grown and evolved with the band, getting married, buying houses and having kids. While Wiebe says it could be easy to claim that the band has broken up, it’s simply on a hiatus, as “Jupiter has to align with Mars to get everyone together in the same room,” but that everyone still really loves making music together.

During downtime with Riverboat Gamblers, Wiebe formed Drakulas in 2015 in order to flex his creative muscles. He also records songs solo for various comedy specials, theme songs and films, but he admits he loves to collaborate with his talented friends way too much to fully concentrate on recording songs on his own. In fact, it was an industry friend who first got him on stage as a stand-up, and the naturally comedic Wiebe has been seriously pursuing comedy projects ever since that first stand-up act 10 years ago. He jokes he enjoys comedy because he doesn’t have to “carry gear” like when he tours with his bands.

In addition to weekly shows at Buzzmill East called “Excelsior! With Mike Wiebe and Doug Mellard,” he also performs with Avery Moore as married childless fundamentalist youth ministers called the McCuewans, and he most recently opened up as a stand-up for Kyle Kinane. In addition (seriously, when does this guy ever sleep?), Wiebe can also be found on several podcasts, including “International News Service” and “Zach and Mike Make 3” with Zach Blair from Rise Against, as well as Drakulas.

Wiebe cites his “horrible ADD” as the reason he experiments with so many different types of projects and muses that he’s really “committed to making parents mad” with his career choices, but hearing him talk about his work and seeing him on stage, whether at a stand-up show or in concert, it’s easy to see why he continues to write and perform. Wiebe practically oozes stage presence, which isn’t surprising considering his lanky, Iggy Pop-esque 6’3” frame, long dark hair, and (sometimes) mustache — plus his insane amount of energy. All of his projects seem to reveal little pieces of his personality and creative aspects, and Austin is the better for it.

When asked what else he could possibly want to try his hand in next or strive toward, Wiebe deadpans, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to get named People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive,’ but we’ll see — that stuff can be so political.”

Stefanie Scott

The actress is ready to live her best life in Austin

By Laurel Miller

At 25, Stefanie Scott has a resume that would make even veteran actors envious. The newly Austin-based multi-hyphenate (the actress also sings and writes her own songs, plays a mean ukulele, dances and does her own stunts) has worked with Oscar winners Gary Oldman and Octavia Spencer, as well as Emily Mortimer and Steve Carrel. From her early work playing a youthful version of Natalie Portman’s character in 2011’s “No Strings Attached,” a turn as Timothée Chalamet’s girlfriend in “Beautiful Boy” and a co-starring role that also featured her own music in “Jem and the Holograms,” Scott hasn’t slowed down since she began auditioning for commercials as a child.

Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, Scott relocated to Austin in 2021.

“I love Austin so much, but moving here sooner wasn’t an option because of work,” she says. “Now, with Austin’s film scene, it’s realistic to live here if you don’t want to do the L.A. thing — you just get on a plane. At this point, I’m more about having a real life. I value my relationships with people more than chasing my career all the time.”

That career has earned Scott raves, most recently for her starring role in Lifetime’s “Girl in the Basement,” in which she delivers a harrowing portrayal of an 18-year-old held hostage by her domineering, narcissistic father, played by Judd Nelson. The film is based on the true story of Elizabeth Fritzl, whose father, Joseph, kept her imprisoned in their basement and sexually abused her for 24 years, during which time she gave birth to three children. As Sara, Scott is both heartbreakingly vulnerable and indomitable, morphing from teen naïf to a 38-year-old mother of three hellbent on liberating herself and her children from her father’s abuse.

Of playing such a challenging character, Scott says, “You have to be as present as possible — it can’t be performative, especially with a true story like this one. The movie wasn’t even as intense as the reality, and I wanted to be cautious and respectful. This actually happened to someone who now leads a very private life.”

Scott’s newest show is Peacock’s “The Girl in the Woods,” an edgy supernatural series that debuted in late October. She laughs when asked if she’s drawn to dark roles. “In real life, I try to be quite lighthearted, but sometimes the right opportunity just comes along — a lot of the interesting roles for women today are more complex characters. I’m attracted to projects based on the director, and their vision for the story, as opposed to the role itself,” she says.

Scott participated in theater as a child, eventually landing an agent and some local commercials. Her first television and film roles came in 2008, when she was subsequently cast as Katie in “Beethoven’s Big Break,” and appeared on an episode of the comedic spy series “Chuck” on NBC. Scott also had a recurring role as Lexi on Disney’s “A.N.T. Farm.”

“I’ve always loved performing, making home videos,” she says. “As a kid, I bonded with my grandma watching old movies, like ‘The Sound of Music.’” Small wonder that some of Scott’s greatest mentors have been older women. “I’ve had strong connections with some of my co-stars. They’ve taken me under their wing,” she says.

Her passion for films from other eras hasn’t diminished with time or success, either.

“There are definitely many roles for women now that are new and exciting,” she says. “But I also think we should celebrate earlier work. Some of the women in film from the 70s, 80s and 90s were taking the risks that brought us to this point. They were so ahead of their time.” When asked for an example, she mentions Helen Slater in 1985’s “The Legend of Billie Jean,” in which the actress plays a do-good outlaw on the lam. “The girl is crazy badass in that movie; she shaves her head on camera … women like paved the way for featuring strong female leads.”

While Scott’s passion for film is evident, she felt 2021 was the year to make a major change and step away from Los Angeles, despite her love of the city.

“I really enjoy the energy in Austin,” she says. “People are very kind here, and always down to have a great time.”

As for future roles, Scott hopes to do more comedy and a musical, but she’s wise beyond her years when it comes to the big picture.

“I want to keep making great movies, but I also want to spend more time with my family and people I love. I feel good in my reality right now.”

Heather Emerson

From Austin to Harvard and back again, her story is inspirational … and her meals are delicious!

By Amanda Eyre Ward

Heather Emerson, co-founder of food delivery company Prep to Your Door, is recognized by “Austin Under 40” and even “Forbes Next 1000.” She and her co-founder (and fiancé) Faiez Rana met in class at Harvard University and have become leaders with a passion for sustainability, food systems and education. But this gleaming resume doesn’t tell the whole story.

Emerson’s story, in fact, began far from Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2005, Emerson was hired at the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin.

“I was in a really bad place, and I needed stability and they offered, you know, $10 an hour with benefits,” she says. Emerson recounts her first day at work, when her new boss, Joy, showed her around. “She treated me with such dignity.” Joy was the first vegan Heather had ever met. Her first station was the Smoothie Bar, next to the Raw Vegan Bar. “The guy who worked at the Raw Vegan Bar was so alive and so present,” Emerson remembers. “I was like, I want what you have. He told me, you should go vegetarian!”

Emerson gave it a try. “My life changed,” she marvels. “I could see better, hear better and I didn’t feel bogged down. I lost a bunch of weight, and I was on a big bag of psychotropic meds and all of that went away. I realized the power of food. I realized that I have control over how I feel and how I show up. Not only was I learning the power of food for me personally, but I was learning the power of food for our planet and for our future.”

Emerson became an evangelist for the plant-based lifestyle and says, “a bunch of my friends went vegetarian. They felt great.” Upon moving to New York after graduating from UT, Emerson made organic meals and stored them in glass jars.

“I could throw them in my bag, and they wouldn’t leak in my purse all day.” When she posted her meal prep on Facebook, she recalls, “People were like, what are you doing? Can you make it for me? What’s the recipe? This looks amazing! And I remember thinking, I really want to start this business.”

At Harvard for graduate school, she met Faiez Rana.

“We had similar interests, but my wealth of knowledge was about food and sustainability, and his wealth of knowledge was about entrepreneurship and business.” The two started “Prep to Your Door” and moved to Austin, where they are enjoying success and planning a wedding.

To research this story, I had a week of “Prep to Your Door” delivered to my house. The meals arrive in a recyclable bag in jars — zero-waste. They are plant-based, organic, gluten-free and ready to eat. And from Kung Pao Brussels to the most delicious Caesar salad I’ve ever tasted, I was stunned by each delicious meal. So even though we’ve always been a “Pizza or P. Terry’s?” kind of family, Emerson’s flavorful dishes and inspiring path to success may just make me the newest plant-based eater in Austin.